Behind the scenes, anything but anonymous

by Lois Schonberger | 10/25/01 5:00am

Every athletic team at every college, university or high school across the country is comprised of a gamut of personalities. The first to come to mind are the visible characters: players, coaches and fans. These are the game winners and goal scorers, the strategists and the whipping boys, the encouragers and the critics. Regardless of what sport is being played, the obvious cast of characters maintains a rather consistent formula. They put forth the effort, time and devotion that is the driving force behind every great team, game in and game out, season after season.

But under this recognizable structure of athletics lies a foundation network of support that goes largely unnoticed despite its tremendous impact on the teams they work with. Assistant coaches, team managers and athletic trainers provide the organization, inspiration and treatment that makes a good program great and keeps athletes performing at their maximum capabilities season after season. Outside of the athletic community, their contribution goes relatively unnoticed. Any player will tell you of an averted disaster, or a newfound strength gained from such characters. Any head coach will speak of the indispensable assistant.

The Dartmouth athletic department is no different. The coaching staffs and their respective bands of players are supported by a universally acclaimed corps of trainers and assistants.

Among these figures, one stands as an exception to the rule of anonymity. Strength and conditioning coach Jane Taylor is nothing if not visible.

You will find her on sidelines screaming her own personal brand of inspiration at the players she works with. You will find her on the turf before the sun rises, training the men and women of Dartmouth teams to increase their speed and agility, and perhaps most importantly, their punctuality. In daylight hours you'll find her working team after team through the rigorous weight training that produces the toned physiques and outstanding fitness of the women's field hockey, lacrosse and soccer teams, to name a few.

Her presence in the weight room is impossible to ignore. Pushing athletes to their limits day after day with her no-nonsense attitude, she still manages to evoke laughter from her players, even in the midst of the most painful of exertions.

A "self-made" woman, Taylor worked multiple jobs, putting herself through college and graduate school in order to gain the academic background necessary to maximize her own capability to improve an athlete's performance. Supplementing this extensive educational background with years of experience, both as a three-sport athlete herself in college and professionally with years of work at UMass and in personal training, "Jano" has built a wide body of knowledge with which to educate her players.

Taylor began working with the Big Green in 1995 as a part-time intern on a meager salary. In the six years that have since past, largely as a result of her continued hard work and results, her position has expanded to include the demanding full-time task of working with nearly every varsity team on campus on a weekly basis, both in and out of season.

The athletes who spend four years working with Taylor all walk away with varied experiences and results. The nature of the human body does not lend itself to immediate or extreme physical results in every case as the result of weight or speed training. But perhaps the most enduring effect of Taylor's efforts lies in the confidence that is consistently gained through her training, especially with female athletes.

In a society that flaunts the beauty of thin in nearly every visible media, Taylor provides an alternate viewpoint, in which a physically fit athlete can make gains and accomplish goals in a space free of body image stereotypes. "Women, as a rule, underestimate their ability when it comes to something out of the box" of their normal ability, Taylor says. The majority of the athletes she deals with come in freshman year unaware of their own physicality, often times even afraid to appear too strong or fit. Taylor works to remove these self-critical norms, replacing them with a "learned appreciation for their own bodies and what they can do as athletes."

The women that Taylor has worked with have been Strength and Conditioning All-Americans, have gone on to coach or train themselves, and a few have gone on to careers as professional athletes.

Her legacy is only partially vested in such accomplishments. She is proud of the marvelous athletes that she has been able to work with, to help improve their fitness or strength. But the majority of her satisfaction lies in the confidence she instills in the athletes with whom she works.